Resources for raising readers

Children who take to reading early on are more likely to make it a habit throughout their lives. Use these resources to choose books that will become family favorites.

By Heather Lyn Wood

Heather is a freelance writer, attorney and mom to a toddler.

Overwhelming evidence suggests that infancy and toddlerhood lay the foundation for children’s later intellectual, social and emotional health, including school preparedness. And of all the building blocks for scholastic achievement, none is more critical than literacy. Children's reading skills are the number one indicator of future success in school, and experts agree that it’s never too early to start building them.

Read to your child early

Reading to babies and toddlers builds a number of skills that are key to literacy, including alphabetic knowledge (the ABC’s), phonemic awareness (knowing the sounds of spoken language) and print awareness (knowledge of print and books and how they are used).

But it’s not all about skill development. Reading together is a way for young children to bond with caregivers, build memories, explore the world and learn to appreciate quiet moments. Storytelling encourages kids to use their imaginations in ways that TV and other screen-related activities do not. When adults read aloud, children develop a sense that reading is a fun, important activity.

While it may be tempting to wait until a child is in school to start daily reading, child development specialists encourage parents to do the opposite. Reading even to babies creates a family habit that is more likely to stick as children grow and become busier, and any age-appropriate reading is better than none at all.

“Research shows that children who take to reading early on are more likely to make it a pleasurable habit throughout their lives and experience later success in reading and writing, with a broader vocabulary and deeper knowledge about people and the world,” says James. “Studies show that when children are excited about a topic, they will keep reading,” she adds, “so the key is to get children ‘hooked’ into reading with texts they will truly enjoy.”

How much is enough?

Most parents understand that reading to children is beneficial, and almost all would like to give their kids a head start with early literacy. But many parents aren’t doing the work to make it happen.

Surveys show that fewer than half (48 percent) of young children in the United States are read to daily, and for many families, the main obstacle appears to be perceived lack of time. An estimated 70% of mothers and 93% of fathers with young children work full time outside the home, leaving limited time in each day for older siblings’ homework, family chores and meals. Experts believe that hectic schedules, along with the increasing popularity of social media and electronic devices, are whittling away the time parents spend reading to their kids.

Thankfully for time-strapped parents, studies show that even a few minutes of reading a day is beneficial. “Numerous studies have reported links between time spent reading, the amount of text read, and reading achievement. Simply adding an extra ten minutes of reading per day dramatically increases a child’s exposure to words, which can boost overall reading achievement,” says Carolyn James, PhD, a former teacher and literacy expert at LeapFrog.

Ideas for time-strapped parents

There are numerous resources to help busy parents choose books that will become family favorites. The web is a treasure trove of ideas for parents who are not sure where to start, do not have time to research book choices, speak a language other than English or need books on very specific topics. Visit any or all of the links below for help choosing books that your whole family will love.

Regardless of which books line your child’s shelves, the main goal is to make reading comfortable and fun. It doesn’t take an expert: any caring adult can instill a lifelong love of reading in a young child.